Hate me if you want to (it breaks my heart too), but (in my always humble opinion) our beloved Rays are headed for a nasty little trip back to the reality that is playing in the AL East.
Allow me to elaborate (please keep in mind these are just the grumblings of a Rays fan (and a realist)):
The Rays are the sweetheart story of the year so far in baseball, and its been awesome watching our boys garner so much national media attention. As recently as June 4th (technically until the end of the game on the 5th) the Rays have led the AL East, but that train has left the station never to be seen again (not this year at least).
The Rays are coming off of a tough 9 game roadtrip in which they posted a sub-par 3-6 record and the BoSox have amassed a 2.5 game lead with 3 games in-hand, and I guarantee that they're not looking over their shoulders after the Rays' dismal performance in Fenway last week, and as any wise baseball fan learned long ago: never, and I mean NEVER count out the Evil Empire, but its not Boston or New York that worries me, its the Rays...
Scott Kazmir can only carry this staff for so long. James Shields has performed horribly away from The Trop and Garza is pitching in a very similar manner as "No-win" Jackson did in '07 (tons of nasty stuff, but about as consistant as the bowels of a competative eater). Jackson will apparently never get it locked down consistantly, and Sonny is as close to a lost cause as you'll find (he should've been shipped to the pen 3 weeks ago (and i believe he would've been had the Rays had any real alternative)).
I feel that Kaz and Shields can be a dominating top of the rotation, but the bottom of the rotation isn't doing the team any favors.
If the Rays lineup top to bottom doesn't learn how to take a pitch/ show discretion at the plate than all the HR's in the world aren't going to win enough games to compete. Listen, offensive production relies more extensively on situational hitting than on any other statistic, period (this is the part where a good journalist would state some statistical evidence in an attempt to validate his previous statement, but I'm not a good journalist, or a journalist at all, in fact).
Too many K's coupled with lack of patience at the plate equals the other teams' starters staying on the field longer. The Rays also seem to lack the ability to successfully sacrifice and or bunt at the most opportune times. Lastly, with the "removal" of Ty Wiggington I assumed the Rays would hit into less double plays, but along comes Jonny-on-the-Spot, Jason Bartlett to take his place as the master of the GIDP (this would be another great spot for statistical evidence, but pish-posh, i'm busy).
Joe Maddon is a Busch-League manager who has a limited feel for the game. He makes bonehead calls at inopportune times and costs his team wins. I'd say he alone will cost the Rays 3-5 more games this season. He doesn't know when to bunt, when to intentionally walk or how to use his bullpen.
The Rays are headed for second-half mediocrity if they don't start playing better baseball...now! Go ahead, hate me if you want to, I do!